Getting mentally fit after baby: 7 ways for busy new mothers to prioritize their mental health
What do you think when you hear the word “healthy?” Chances are you thought of someone who is physically fit. When it comes to health, we’ve been trained to think of the physical aspects of health first, and not the mental ones.
In reality, prioritizing your mental health is just as important as prioritizing your physical health—especially after you’ve had a baby. Here’s why, and how to make space for mental wellness in your life with a few tips from an OBGYN and mother.
Why your mental health matters
So, what is mental health—really? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make healthy choices.
Mental health, in fact, is one of the “Four Pillars of Health.” If your mind, body and spirit were a house, these four things would provide a strong foundation.
- Nutrition: Whatever you put into your body will impact how you function.
- Physical activity: Exercise and movement positively impact how your body functions.
- Sleep: Healthy sleep has powerful effects on your mood and your body. Lack of sleep can dramatically change your outlook on the world, as well as your short and long-term health.
- Mental health: This pillar includes how you cope with anxiety and stress, as well as your level of resiliency.
Despite its importance in daily life, mental health often takes a backseat to the other three pillars. But for optimal well-being and happiness, it’s important to pay attention to all four.
This is especially true for mothers. Neglecting your mental health can lead to difficulty bonding with your baby, strained relationships and physical changes like a weakened immune system, chronic pain, changes in weight and worse. By ignoring your feelings, you may be increasing your chances of experiencing stress, depression, anxiety and burnout. While these are concerns all of the time, they are of utmost importance in the postpartum season of your life.
7 ways to take better care of your mental health
We know how to get physically healthy—with ample rest, good nutrition and consistent exercise—but how do we get more fit mentally? It’s probably easier than you think.
1. Consider therapy: Speaking to a therapist will help you sort through all the thoughts and feelings you’re having, baby-related or not. You’ll learn strategies to cope with the huge change of having a baby and solutions to deal with new scenarios you find yourself in.
2. Practice gratitude: In positive psychology research from Harvard University, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. It helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health and more. Try starting or finishing your day by naming a few things you’re grateful for. You can even start a gratitude journal to keep all your thoughts together.
3. Control negative thoughts: Thoughts are just that—thoughts. They are not your reality. So, when you find yourself focusing on the gloomy things that pop into your head, try stopping your thought process and then releasing it. If you are still getting stuck on it, some mental health experts recommend “taking your thoughts to trial.” This means analyzing the thought and comparing it against evidence and facts. Try it—it might just change your mood!
4. Listen to yourself: In such a busy season of life (read: newborns and babies!) it’s too easy to be disconnected from what your body and mind are telling you. After all, you’re in survival mode. So, try listening to your needs. Are you tired? Thirsty? Do you miss your friends? These little flags your brain has raised are worth examining. Being mindful of your wants and needs will help you honor them.
5. Speak up: Motherhood, especially the first year, can feel so isolating. It’s common to keep all your emotions inside, but it’s recommended to share them. If you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, ask for help! If you’re feeling down or not yourself, talk about it. You’re not the only one feeling this way.
6. Get outside: There are so many benefits of getting some fresh air in the great outdoors. Studies show that the Vitamin D received by sunlight not only boosts your body but your mind too. Being outside is shown to decrease anxiety and help you sleep better—two things that are vital to your mental health.
7. Practice self-care: In those first postpartum months, sometimes it feels impossible to even take a shower. But taking care of yourself and making time for you will positively impact not just you, but your entire family. Get away for a few hours and enjoy some alone time. Exercise. Read a book. Catch up with friends. Revisit some old hobbies. Doing what you love to do will help nourish and replenish your spirit.
Life with young children is busy, stressful and oftentimes chaotic. But you are doing a great job supporting your family and being intentional with every decision you make. Remember to do that for yourself, too. Just as you are choosing healthy recipes for your family to eat and making time for exercise, remember to choose healthy methods for your thinking as well. You deserve it.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out to your OBGYN for help or find one near you today.
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